Fighting Against The Death Penalty In 2000

We Can Make A Difference!

By: Marlene Martin

The year 2000 is already showing signs of being a highly charged time around the issue of the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, "The number of countries that have stopped implementing the death penalty has grown to an all-time high of 105." But the United States continues to buck the world trend with a vengeance -- by increasing its use of the death penalty.

But the news isn't one-sided. Opinion polls show that Americans still support the death penalty, but that support has dropped significantly, from three-quarters to two-thirds. And from the new movie The Hurricane to the new moratorium on executions in Illinois, the injustice and racism inherent in the death penalty system is getting national attention.

I believe the Campaign to End the Death Penalty has played a part in shining a spotlight on the barbarism of capital punishment.

Over the past year, the Campaign was involved in a wide range of activities. We helped build the movement to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, organizing protests and educational events in our local chapters and joining the April mobilizations in Philadelphia and San Francisco. We also sparked campaigns around several death penalty cases, including those of Eugene Colvin-El in Maryland, Kevin Cooper in California and Gary Graham (Shaka Sankofa) in Texas.

In Illinois, we celebrated the release of Anthony Porter, who came within 48 hours of execution the year before but won a stay of execution after Campaign members and others publicized his case. We continued our fight for the Death Row Ten, a group of men sent to Illinois' death row largely on the basis of confessions tortured from them by dishonest cops. We fought for Nathson Fields, an Illinois prisoner who is still languishing behind bars two years after winning his appeal for a new trial. And we worked to free Lawrence Hayes, a Campaign member who was sent to prison on a bogus parole violation -- after he angered New York state officials by speaking out against the death penalty.

The impact we can have was shown by our chapter in North Carolina. Members there got in the face of Gov. Jim Hunt to demand clemency for Wendall Flowers, who was due to be executed on December 17. When Hunt spoke at a Human Rights Week commemoration a week before, he was confronted by Campaigners who unfurled banners and demanded to know how Hunt could claim to support human rights and still plan to execute Flowers. As Campaign member John Johnson described it, "I didn't hear him skip a beat in his speech, but his face turned red. One lady behind us said to Peter and me during the speech, 'Thank you for doing this. He needs to see this.'" On December 15, Hunt commuted Flowers' death sentence -- his first commutation in 15 years as governor.

What 1999 proved is that we can make a difference. It's time to fight even harder in 2000.

The Campaign has several new initiatives planned:

  • "Live from Death Row" goes international. The Campaign is planning to organize "Live from Death Row" panels in several European countries for this spring. We want to further highlight opposition to the death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Save Mumia Abu-Jamal. This is a critical year in the fight to win a new trial for Mumia. Our chapters are already planing to mobilize for local and national activities. The first will be an all-day national conference on Mumia, due to take place February 19 in New York City.
  • Bush Watch. Every presidential candidate is in favor of the death penalty, but the front-running Republican, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, presides over a state that leads the country in executions. As Bush follows the campaign trail over the coming year, our chapters will greet his rallies with rallies of our own -- to call attention to his not-so-compassionate stand on capital punishment.
  • Justice for the Death Row Ten. The Campaign is publishing a new pamphlet to publicize the police torture used to obtain confessions that sent these Illinois prisoners to death row. We want to bring national attention to these cases to win them new trials.

We will continue to organize opposition to the death penalty every chance we get. Onwards to abolition!